Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches have influenced and inspired many, but no one would’ve expected to hear the icon’s words used in a Super Bowl commercial.
It’s exactly what happened Sunday (Feb. 4) when the civil rights figure’s The Drum Major Instinct sermon served as a narration for Dodge’s “Built To Serve” ad with a connection to the their Ram Nation volunteer program. The mission was about service and used certain sentiments by King to reflect it.
“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant,” King is heard saying in the ad. “That’s a new definition of greatness.”
Backlash was immediate, especially since there were plenty of contradictions by using King’s voice in the ad. For one, King wasn’t a big fan of large military budgets and as his speech Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967 showed, he wasn’t fond of advertising at all.
“The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism,” he said in the speech. “They have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff, that’s the way the advertisers do it.”
One fan even took a portion of the SCLC speech and applied to the Dodge ad.
OMG someone overlayed that ridiculous Dodge/MLK ad with what King actually said about capitalism and car commercials pic.twitter.com/9IB528mCyt
— Steadman™ (@AsteadWesley) February 5, 2018
Fiat Chrysler, which owns Dodge, said they got the green light from King’s estate to use his speeches. King’s estate is ran by his son Dexter Scott King, while the non-profit King Center is ran by King’s daughter Bernice King. She quickly distanced herself and the center from the ad via Twitter.
Neither @TheKingCenter nor @BerniceKing is the entity that approves the use of #MLK’s words or imagery for use in merchandise, entertainment (movies, music, artwork, etc) or advertisement, including tonight’s @Dodge #SuperBowl commercial.
— The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center (@TheKingCenter) February 5, 2018
However, the estate’s managing director spoke to Slate on allowing King’s words to used in the ad.
“When Ram approached the King Estate with the idea of featuring Dr. King’s voice in a new “Built To Serve” commercial, we were pleasantly surprised at the existence of the Ram Nation volunteers and their efforts, Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, Inc. said Monday (Feb. 5).
“We learned that as a volunteer group of Ram owners, they serve others through everything from natural disaster relief, to blood drives, to local community volunteer initiatives. Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances. We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others. Thus we decided to be a part of Ram’s “Built To Serve” Super Bowl program.”
You can check out King’s take on advertising here.